In 2022 the Minnesota Gophers returned to the Frozen Four fir the first time in eight seasons. They snapped the longest streak without a Frozen Four berth since the 1960’s. They showed up, everyone got excited, and then Minnesota State promptly dominated them for a majority of the game winning 5-1 and ending the Gophers season in a disappointing fashion. One year later the Gophers are back in the Frozen Four. It’s their first back to back trips since 2002 and 2003. Will this be the team that will end the 20 year streak without a NCAA title and let the Gophers hang banner #6 next fall? To be able to get to that point they will need to be able to defeat a good Boston University team who will look to shut down the Gophers top scorers and put pressure on Justen Close and the Minnesota defensive corps from the drop of the puck. There are no easy games in the Frozen Four—and Thursday’s will be no exception.
Minnesota advanced to the Frozen Four by winning the NCAA West Regional in Fargo. They played down to Canisius for 35 minutes and then scored eight unanswered goals to pick up a 9-2 win in their opener. In the Regional Final they got a good test from St. Cloud State, but the Gophers were too tough and would take out the Huskies 4-1.
Boston University was the #2 seed in the Manchester regional and took out #3 seed Western Michigan in the opening round 5-1. The terriers got a break when #4 seed Cornell upset #1 seeded Denver in the opening round. Cornell would give the Terriers a fight but BU would advance 2-1 to make it to their 23rd Frozen Four in program history.
Historically these two programs are well traveled when it comes to the NCAA Tournament and the Frozen Four. Both teams have five NCAA titles. Both teams are making their 23rd Frozen Four appearance. The Gophers are 12-10 all time in NCAA Semifinals appearances, BU is 11-11. Minnesota’s last Frozen Four win was in 2014 when the Gophers memorably 0.6’ed North Dakota before losing to Union in the Championship Game. BU has reached the NCAA Championship game in their last three trips to the Frozen Four with the most recent one coming in 2015. The Terriers last NCAA Championship was 2009, the Gophers 2003. Minnesota holds a 7-5 edge over BU in the NCAA Tournament in the two programs’ history, but the teams are an even 2-2 in NCAA Semifinals with the Gophers pair of wins coming in the 1970’s, and BU’s in the 1990s. Historically these are two evenly matched teams, but history doesn’t mean squat on Thursday night.
We don’t need to go much into the Gophers. If you are reading this, you probably know about the Gopher program in detail. The nation’s most dangerous line in Logan Cooley, Jimmy Snuggerud and Mathew Knies. The trio of defensemen who will be heading to the NHL as soon as the Gophers play their final game in Brock Faber, Ryan Johnson and Jackson LaCombe. The former walk-on turned star goalie in Justen Close. This Gopher team is primed and now just needs to play it’s game. Minnesota has one injry question in freshman forward Connor Kurth. Kurth was injured in the Canisius game and was said to have had a high ankle sprain. He missed the St. Cloud State game and make the trip to the Frozen Four and practiced on Wednesday with the Gophers. From people at the practice he looked a bit slow and not quite 100, but Bob Motzko in his press conference said that he was 100% and ready to go. We won’t know the official truth until the line chart comes out Thursday afternoon and we see if Kurth is on it or not.
Boston University is led by another amazing freshmen of the likes of Cooley and Snuggerud, but he plays defense. Lane Hutton leads the Terriers in scoring with 48 points on the season and 33 assists. Hutton was named the winner of the Walter Brown Award as the top American-born men’s college hockey player in New England. His 48 points is the most by a freshman defenseman in Hockey East history and the fifth-most by a freshman blue liner in NCAA history. He’s good and probably not too happy that he wasn’t a Hobey hat Trick Finalist and both Cooley and Knies were.
Hutton has a brother in Quinn Hudson who has also been impressive as a freshman for the Terriers. He has 28 points on the season and scored his team best seventh game-winning goal on the season in their win over Western Michigan. Matt Brown is the teams second leading scorer with 46 points and his 16 goals ties him for the lead lead with Wilmer Skoog. Skoog was injured in BU’s 2-1 win over Cornell to advance to the Frozen Four and will be a “game-time decision” according to Terriers coach Jay Pandolfo. The Terriers have one other injury question in defenseman Nick Zabaneh. He was injured in the Hockey East Tournament and has not played since then but has practices the last two days with BU and he may return to the lineup against the Gophers on Thursday.
The Terrier net is manned by junior Drew Commesso. He’s peaking at the right time entering the Frozen Four with a .951 save percentage in his last four games. He allowed just a pair of goals on 39 shots he faced in the Terriers first two NCAA Tournament games. Commesso has struggled at times this season, especially on shots at his five-hole. Overall he enters the Frozen Four with a .914 save percentage and a 2.41 goals against average. The Gophers will need to put pucks on Commesso and make him make mistakes.
On paper, while the two teams are well matched, the Gophers have slightly better stats all around. Minnesota scores 4.21 goals per game to BU’s 3.90. The Gophers allow just 2.24 goals per game to BU’s 2.56. They are better on the power-play at 26.4% to 20.3%. Better on the penalty kill 83.5% to 80.7%. Take three fewer penalty minutes per game. They win 52.9% of their faceoffs compared to 49% for the Terriers. Minnesota is the overall better team. They just need to come out and prove it by playing like it for a full 60 minutes—or more if needed.
BU is 2-1 against common opponents with the Gophers this season. They split a series at Michigan in October dropping the opener 9-2 but coming back to win the second game 3-2. They also defeated Notre Dame 5-2 right before Thanksgiving.
The first goal will be key. BU is a perfect 21-0 when scoring first this season. The Gophers are 21-4 when doing so. BU does not give up leads once they get them. They are 17-1 when leading after the first period and 22-1 when leading after the second. Meanwhile the second period is the most important one for the Gophers. They are still 4-3 this season when trailing after the opening 20 minutes, but are a perfect 22-0 when leading after two periods. BU is just 2-7 when trailing after two periods. Get a lead, hold it and expand it. This is not likely to be a game where a team comes back from more than two goals down to win. In fact, two goals down may be too much to climb. It’s a race to three goals for either team as Minnesota is 27-5 when scoring a trio or more goals, but just 1-4-1 when scoring to or less. The same is true for BU. They are 5-7 on the season scoring two goals or less, but are 15-3 when scoring three or more. Three is the magic number.
Minnesota has the horses to get this done. They just need to get out of their heads and play their game for 60 minutes and they will be looking for a chance to win NCAA title #6 for the first time since 2014. Let’s hope this this is the year.
HOW TO WATCH: NCAA FROZEN FOUR SEMIFINAL
#5 Boston University Terriers vs #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay, Florida
When: 4 PM Thursday
Stream: Watch ESPN